Thursday, November 5, 2015

Nothing is Sound, Fading West, and Good-bye for Now...

I feel it appropriate to end this blog with a post about Switchfoot. Their albums have been a part of my life for the past ten years and (at least in my opinion) tell of why I'm closing this blog out. So sit tight, I've got one last story for this blog before I stop posting on it regularly.

The story starts with a 16 year old kid, who had been forced to go back into highschool. He hated the idea: he'd done large schools before and they all seemed to end up with him being on the outskirts, hated for having the audacity to be himself.  He was done with groups of people, and probably people in general. But at the command of his parish priest his parents put him back into the highschool system. And he hated it. The kids were shallow and cruel still, but he found friends anyway. He  didn't really fit into any of the cliques, but found himself being friends with people from all over the school: cheerleaders, jocks, nerds, outcasts, and the legimitaley crazy. His temper was horrible: most people thougth he was on drugs and didn't want whatever they thought he was on.

But he had fun his first (and junior) year of highschool. Life was better with people in it, even if he couldn't stand most of them on a good day when the sun shone and he was happy as he was ever going to be. He found some Christians who he didn't outright despise and hung out with them as well and was astounded to find out that he was liked. He could be as weird as he wanted and people didn't seem to mind. For whatever reason they found him and his deathly serious view of life hilarious, which helped him let go just a little bit. He also had found a good friend; someone who was troubled too but just showed it a different way. The two of them hung out a lot, much to the confusion of the rest of the school, but they had a good time talking religion, DnD, and Magic.  Life was good, if a bit challenging at times: this friend had gotten himself into the occult and dragged everyone around him into a vortex of demonic activity, forcing the kid to learn more about the demonic world in a year than most people would find out first hand in a lifetime. In his journey that year he also met people who had sold their souls to the devil, said good-bye to their guardian angels, and were sad that they had done so. But it wasn't just darkness: there was nights of DnD and Bible study and way too much caffeine and so much more.

That all ended senior year. The friend's parents divorced and the friend, the one who stuck up for both sides, was screwed over by both sides for refusing to take a side. The kid watched and tried to do what he could, but couldn't stop his friend from going into places he couldn't follow. He would be woken up at all hours of the night as his friend came to crash and go goodness knows where, only to come back with bruises and sealed lips. At the same time his own paretns started having trouble as well, and the boy found out much more than he ever needed to about his parents, good and bad. And, somewhere in there most of his friends from junior year graduated and left him with a group that didn't know or care about him, who disapproved of his choice of friends outside of their circle, and thought there was no point in talking to him without conformity. At the same time the boy was trying out iconography, and finding that he wanted to be a different kind of artist than he originally thought.

And that's when the kid got lyme's disease again. While he'd had it as a kid this time was much harder, since it exacerbated a slight allergy to dairy and eggs that he didn't know he even had, throwing him into a cloud of confusion and pain that he had no idea how to end. Most days the boy was unable to sleep until 2 or 3 in the morning, and thus came to class as early as noon to try and make up the difference. He was exhausted, stretched, and overwhelmed.  The confusion and pain were so bad some days that the boy started to doubt he was in the real world anymore. There are three reasons why this kid didn't give up and fade. The first is that the kid didn't stop praying and made his Eastern Christian faith the bedrock of a world that otherwise was constantly shifting and becoming more confusing. He prayed and wrote as many icons as he could, churning out icons as fast as he could make them. The second reason was his discovery of the show Firefly. Something about the show convinced the kid that maybe, if he just kept plowing through it, it would all make sense somehow.

But the third reason was definitely the Switchfoot album "Nothing is Sound". The kid had listened to the rest of Switchfoot's discography and liked it, but something about "Nothing is Sound" clicked. I'm not sure what it was, but somewhere between Lonely Nation and Stars I had realized this was the album for me. The rest of the album was just confirmation of what I knew: Jon Foreman had stated what I had always believed in twelve tracks. Life sucked but was worth it, even if I didn't understand what the heck was going on. Which was most days, since the lyme's had woken up a dairy and eggs allergy from hell that caused horrendous headaches, paranoia, and depression. So most days were spent in a horrible fog that lasted for well over five years. "Nothing is Sound" was the album I would just put on repeat in my headphones and listen to it literally all day long, using it as a grounding mechanism.

College was the fallout, because I had no idea that what was going on was chemical, as opposed to just a component of the lyme's disease. It got so bad that eventually I stopped thinking that I was even awake anymore. Fortunately someone finally suggested that I cut certain foods out of my diet to see if the depression and paranoia was being caused by an outside. I listened and for the first time in five years I could think clearly. The world finally began to feel stable in my beleaguered head, and I began to do more than just survive.

But what does more than surviving mean? It's six years later and I still don't entirely know. You'd think I would have figured it out by now, right? And, to a certain degree, I have. All the things that I'd believed during those five years of chemical imbalance are still true. The world is ultimately a doomed place. We can't save it. Trying to do so will just drive us nuts, because the world is permanently broken. But there's a new world coming, one where the right things will happen and we'll finally find peace as a race. I believed it then as the desperate hope of a man who couldn't do much else but try. I believe it now as a man who knows it can happen, he just can't be the principle architect of it.

During this time I continued listening to Switchfoot, but I'd changed, and for the next few albums I felt removed. Don't get me wrong, the albums are good, but it wasn't "Nothing is Sound". And even that album didn't really connect with me the way it used to. How could it? The desperation that had driven me to those place in my mind was gone, and no one in their right mind just seeks out suffering in order to understand how the world works. "Where I Belong", on the album "Vice Verses", was the closest thing I'd gotten to actually synching up with the band in a very long time, but the album itself (while it's Switchfoot's best full length album) just didn't do it.

Then "Edge of the Earth" released, and it clicked. Finally, after ten years, I could own what was being said again. It's only seven tracks long, but if anyone were to hold a gun to my head and tell me to say what album summed up my beliefs about the world, I'd pick this album without hesitation.

At 27 I'm finally starting to calm down. The desperation that was present for most of my life is now gone, replaced by a determination to make it all make sense. At 27 I find that I have a tired soul. My wife and child are making me younger again every day, but for the moment I'm tired. The almost suicidal wish to go to Heaven so I could finally rest has been replaced by a need to see everything be made right. The blind need to see, the lame should walk, the jaded need to believe again. I want to go home. It's hard to say why I believe Heaven exists, but I can feel that it does. It's not wishful thinking or denial. I know there is a place beyond this one where suffering is non-existent, where all the tears are wiped away, and where we finally forgive each other for all the horrible things we've done to each other.

And that's what this album is about: fading into the sunset, walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, yearning for our actual home. This world sure ain't it, that's for sure. It's hard to sum up this album for me, especially since I haven't been listening to it all that long but, as I listen to it, I find that something has ended for me. Something has changed. As I look at the sunset that is my life I realize that I've had my back to the sun this whole time, watching the things running behind me, when I should have been running towards that setting sun like a bat out of hell, refusingo to stop running for even a second. After ten long years I can finally say it: I'm happier than I ever knew possible, and I'm just getting started. Maria and Micah and who knows who else are my traveling companions in a pilgrimage across time as we look for that beautiful moment when time, which is only the measure of change, will finally end, and we'll find ourselves, broken and bruised, finally being mended by a God that we've known our entire lives, even though we'll never understand Him.

I'd like to take this moment to thank you all for reading this blog. It was an attempt to capture who I am in a mirror so I could look at myself and figure out who I really am, who God is. I put everything I'm interested in in a shotgun and shot it out, week after week and year after year, trying to see what sticks. I've figured that out now. I'm still going to write, but The Kitchen Sink has served it's purpose, and so I must bid it good-bye. For all of you who read this blog, thank you so much for reading my thoughts! It's been a privilege and an honor to put my thoughts on the web.

For those of you who liked my stuff on RPGs and geekery: I'll still be doing that, but I'm not entirely sure what form that will look like. I'll link here on the blog when I know for certain where it's going to transition to.

For those of you who like my theological articles and such: I've reactivated my Pilgrim Studios blog, which is even now starting posts! I'll be putting up my iconography and discussing theological and spiritual stuff in the Eastern Christian tradition.

I would like to dedicate this blog to Switchfoot (geeky and stalker-ish as it sounds): y'all were the one who taught me that art was soul archeology. I'll never forget that. Thank you.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Spyder's Burner: Supporting PC's

About a month ago I wrote an article about how I found the structure of Beliefs were working in my Burning Wheel game Oasis. T'was a good article and a lot of people seemed to pass it around, but then Andy asked "what about Intra-Party Beliefs? How does this scheme involve anyone else?" I told him I'd think on it and played a session with my "new" ideas in mind, and found out a few things:

  1. Each character can really only have ONE goal Belief at a time. It just doesn't feel right to start on a new goal after all the work it takes just to get one off the ground.
  2. Only two goals at a time per party, please. Four goals to juggle together is way too bloody much for my poor head. Two, on the other hand, allows for convenient cut-aways without taking up too much time from the other players. 
  3. Players should look out for ways to include other players. Yeah, I know, this one's a no brainer, but when you're going on twenty (twenty!) sessions you sometimes build some bad habits.
So what happens with the characters who don't have the two driving goals per session? They swap out their goal Belief with a Party Belief. Find another one of characters that has a goal and write a Belief about him. Make sure it's how you're going to help or hinder that character and then throw it all into motion. The tentpoles make their move, and the supporters react. Switch roles next session. Rinse and repeat. Or something like that, haven't tried the last part yet. But Luke talks about it somewhat in the Burning Wheel: players taking turns switching between the active and supportive roles.

Friday, October 16, 2015

These Are Some of My Favorite Things

RPG: Burning Wheel
People struggling to become something more in a dark, but hopeful, world. The mechanics are complicated and deep.Consequences really hurt. There's a million skills that could be all put down to thirty. Fight! is long and painful And characters will be changed.

Oh dear sweet Lord I love this game. Where was this game my whole life? I've been playing this game for awhile, and I've written several reviews on it, but I keep finding something new to love. Even character creation is starting to become something  I look forward to. And the rest of the games based off this one are amazing as well. I could probably just play this family of games and be happy for the rest of my life, no joke.

Movie: Schindler's List 
This movie has the distinct honor of being one of the very few movies to reduce me to tears (Toy Story 3 also has that honor). Watching Schindler's reaction to saving all the people that he did was one of the most genuinely humbling events of my life, to say nothing about the rest of that movie, which is a tour-de-force on everything that could be said about mankind.

There are very few movies I would say constitute real and actual art. Ostrov is one of them, and deserves an honorable mention on this list for being so amazing. Children of Men is another movie that I can say is without peer. But this movie is, without a doubt, the best movie I have ever seen. You don't get better than Schindler's List. You just don't. The journey from being a sinner to a righteous man has never been better expressed.

Smash Character: Red Link

You see a slow but powerful character with projectile attacks? I see someone with a bunch of different ways to give you hell. Bombs stun you, that bloody boomerang messes with your plans, and the arrows can kill you when you least expect it. And that's before we meet the mighty Foot of Destiny and the jump attack that kills at 90%, not to mention an up smash that's really come into it's own. While this sometimes makes me a turtle if I'm feeling lazy (those arrows with the sniping...) I find I have the most fun if I'm running right at you, bomb in hand. That lovely stun...

Oh, why red Link? It's my favorite tunic from Ocarina of Time. That and the red makes me a better fighter. No, really. Faster, too. Yup.

Nostalgic Series: The Chronicles of Narnia
No, not the awful modern series that spits on Lewis's work. No, I mean that other cheesy series that's faithful to Lewis, but not much else. But man, how children eat up cheese, myself particularly. I loved the heck out of these movies, particularly The Silver Chair, The effects were awful, although you have to admire them for trying.

Like I said, The Silver Chair was my favorite movie in the series. I loved the ending challenge of making the protagonists doubt reality itself. That and the effects were less obtrusive than the other movies, stupid snake at the end nonwithstanding. I also found Puddleglum pretty endearing and well acted. Great, that makes me afraid to watch it and find out he doesn't hold up. So glad the Nostalgia Critic probably won't review it, that would be earth shattering. Now if only I could find the series so I can indoctrinate Micah and drive my poor wife even more insane. Long as we don't find the film adaptation of Little House on the Prairie...

Alright, nevermind! We'll find it!
Iconography Book: Iconostasis
If you ever get a hankering to understand Orthodox sacred art and are ready for a trip down the rabbit hole, Iconostasis is perfect. Starting off as a philosophical treatise on dreaming Iconostasis segues through it's topics with a meandering but direct method. The book builds the case that icons are essentially the dreams of the faithful as they progress toward God, with the iconostasis, a screen separating the sanctuary and nave in and Orthodox church, being the prime example. The iconostasis hides the sanctuary and yet reveals who is in it and what goes on in there, revealing it and concealing it in a logic that can only work if one is obeying dream logic. The book effortlessly weaves between all the topics without a seeming rhyme or reason until the end of the book, sorta like how a dream really doesn't make all that much sense until you get to the end and realize what you've been doing all along.

I learned a lot from this book, but if I had to pick one thing at gun point it would be that church is the place to go and dream about being God and that the icons are us dreaming of being like God. Which is totally different from sleeping through the service, by the way. Nowhere in this blog post do I condone that, so please don't try referencing this thing to your pastor as proof as to why you should be sleeping during services!

Star Wars Movie: Return of the Jedi
Yeah yeah yeah, this is the worst of the original trilogy as far as standalone movies go. The Ewoks are annoying and the extended scenes add absolutely nothing to the movie. But this has the most of what I liked about the Star Wars trilogy: internal struggle leading to outer victory. Luke's enlightenment tied into the Galactic Civil War and he contributed without being directly involved.

Another contributing factor to me loving this movie was my childhood fear of Darth Vader. I ain't kidding, Darth Vader scared the holy crap out of me. Just hearing that breathing creeped me out. So seeing Darth Vader's mask being taken off to see an old and dying man brought closure to my shattered child psyche.

Death Battle: Solid Snake vs. Sam Fisher

Just 'cause Solid Snake is awesome.

Prince of Persia Game: Warrior Within
Oh man. this game... is it glitchy? Yup. Is it unfair? Yup. And does it feature an awesome open world dungeon with amazing platforming? Oh hell yes. Yes, the original game has a charm that is most definitely not in it's successors and the third game really is the best game of the previous two, but I can't help but love the hell out of it anyway. If you haven't played it give it a shot. You just might like it.

Russian Circles Song: Schiphol
This was one of the songs I never stopped listening to my year in Atchison. I would listen to this, the album This Will Destroy You by This Will Destroy You, and the album The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place by Explosions in the Sky, on repeat and as loud as I could get my headphones to allow. I'm surprised I'm not half deaf by the experience. I probably am and never noticed.

Seriously, though, this song has an amazing build up. I showed it to my sister Anna who, after listening to the song, declared that if all rock was like this song she'd be happy. I'm inclined to agree with her, but then again I hate most lyrics these days. Not only can I not shut them out, no matter how hard I try, but the lyrics are usually so banal and poorly thought out that I really would wish they would stop polluting the air and my mind with their trash. Which is why instrumental is so good. I don't have to put up with that crap and just listen to what I wanted to in the first place: the music...

Favorite Switchfoot Album: Nothing is Sound
This album was senior year of highschool. When this sucker came out my best friend's parents were going through a horrific divorce and I was starting to come down with Lyme's Disease, which left me in a haze for the next four or five years of my life. Throughout it all I kept coming back to these songs and leaning on them for support and comfort. Yes, life sucked, but there was hope at the end of the tunnel, even if I couldn't see it. We Are One Tonight, the second to last song on the album, is a song that I appreciate more and more each time I hear it. Which actually reflects my experiences with the album itself, come to think of it. The older I get the more this album becomes understandable. Instead of liking it for the angst and "life sucks" angle, I find that I appreciate it more for it's honest commentary on life: sex is nice and easy but love is hard, hoping is the only way to stay sane, and while life is hard it's achingly beautiful, so who could want anything different?

That wasn't too bad of a Favorite Things post, was it? I might make more, we'll see.

Friday, October 9, 2015

God and Nature

The other day I was assigned to a detail that took me way out into the boonies of the military base where I am stationed. It wasn't a very glamorous detail. It had me near the big wigs of my installation, which meant I really had to be extra careful about how I presented myself. So that day was a bit more stressful than a normal day at my job is. At the end of the detail they released my buddy and I to walk around and look at the scenery, which is mostly untouched on military bases so that way training can happen in wild areas. This is sort of what I was staring at (scenery changed so as to protect national security and all that, I'm sure the COMSEC people would appreciate it)

I love being out in nature. While I'm no great outdoorsman I find the solitude and peace of nature to be refreshing. As I stared out, into the great plains, I took out my prayer rope and began praying the Jesus Prayer. As I did so it occurred to me how perfectly everything was organized. The grass held down the soil, which fed the grass. The sky let down rain on the soil and the soil returned the water back up to the sky. This great cycle worked, without fail, day in and day out without the slightest bit of help from man. If anything we depend on this order and harmony to work without even realizing it and certainly aren't as thankful as we could be that the whole world works the way it does. Either way, I was struck by the sheer order and creativity of creation. Without doing anything but being itself it was good.

I continued to look and pondered how somebody could look at something this beautiful and not see God in it. Systems left to themselves decay and die and yet here this stood, unchanging in it's ways. In my mind that suggested someone who tended it and cared for it, because I've never experience a system that just worked on it's own without help. The very existence of the plains as they are suggest a God. Peace, which is perfect order and harmony, is a sign of God. The plains radiated peace. They radiated  God.

My thoughts continued to wander and it occurred to me that I had felt this sort of radiance before, this incredible stillness that was out here. I had met it in holy men and women. For anyone who hasn't met this sort of person before there's a stillness to a person who's holy. They can be laughing, talking, crying, it doesn't matter, it radiates an otherness about it. They are not like us by being more human than we are. They are so like us they are other. Looking at this beauty of the plains I realized that they were radiating the same peace and contentment as the holy men and women I had met. God shone out of them both.

But then the moment arrived when I felt my own soul in relation to this calm and peace and realized I was very far from it. I was not at peace, I was not in harmony, there was no great order to my soul like there was out here in the plains or the holy men and women I'd met. I was a profound mess, profoundly fallen in a way that I'd never felt before. It wasn't that I felt judged or even guilty. Sin has very little to do with guilt, I knew that at in that moment. I simply wasn't in sync with God and everything He had made. At that moment the Jesus Prayer made sense in a way that I'd never experience before.

 "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

 I wasn't condemned, I was simply someone out of touch and asking to be put back into good and working order. I simply wanted to fit and found that, while I didn't right then and there, I could if I wanted to. Y'know, with a lot of time and practice. As I stood there, praying in the breeze and watching the grass sway, I realized I wanted nothing more than to be like that prairie. I wanted to be in complete working order. I wanted to be  in communion with God, who was radiating in that prairie so strongly that I could barely see anything else. God is in everything, even myself.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Friday, October 2, 2015

What Hell on Wheels Taught Me About Being a GM

I blame my mom for this one. We had gone over to my parents' house for vacation and had a blast. Having family around to take Micah when Maria and I were tired was a godsend, particularly after that grueling 22 hour trip where we discovered that Micah doesn't sleep in cars, not voluntarily at any rate. So we were tired and I was feeling only slightly homicidal after having a screaming offspring in the car for that amount of time. So I asked my mom if she had seen any good TV recently and she immediately started talking about Hell on Wheels.

Now, part of her love of the show is undoubtedly cause she's a Southerner at heart. I mean, she was a bayou rat for criminy's sake, you don't just get that out of someone! And there's the music, of course: good Western, not that crappy stuff y'all call Country. But the take away was that the characters were really well developed. It was a character drama, through and through. I like character dramas a lot, so I decided to give it a shot. And I'm really enjoying it! We're in the middle of the second season as of writing this blog post (which you probably won't see for another month) and Hell on Wheels has a lot going for it. Watching the show has made me start taking mental notes on how to incorporate some of it's techniques into my own Burning Wheel game. Here's what I've seen so far.

A Slow Burn is Just Fine. I'm a very impatient man by nature. If something's going to happen I want it NOW. Hell on Wheels has managed to keep the narrative going by being patient and building the groundwork. The Swede isn't a major villain in season one so much as he's an annoyance. Well, one major thing happens and then guess what? He changed his outlook and all of a sudden he's a big problem. Let the people in the background develop, because eventually it's all going to bleed together and someone's gonna get hurt. And that's good for story.

In Oasis, my current Burning Wheel campaign I decided I was going to introduce the Children of Lilith, an all-male race of Lilith's children, into the campaign before the players had adequately defeated the werewolf threat that had been bubbling up for about ten sessions.  And before they solved the mystery of the Red Death, a plague that's been decimating the Iron Kingdoms. Now I have to tie the three threats together and make them one super threat. That's going to be a headache. Yay me.

When in Doubt, Conserve. It's pretty simple, actually: make your player's plans your plans. Want to introduce a death cult? Make sure at least one or two of the players' relationships are in the cult. Yes, I said in the cult. They might be fooled, they might not be, but that's not the point. You want people to have something at stake that's personal. It's always a better idea to use something that the players already know and have invested in than not, unless you're intentionally expanding the players' field of vision. Just make sure you actually need to introduce new elements, cause if you throw in too much you can get swamped very easily....

In Oasis this happened entirely by accident. The game had started with a riot. The lord of the city, Watcher Constantine, was a relationship of Vincent Durant, a slimy PC. A few sessions into the game and Vincent decided he was going to poison Watcher Constantine and take over the city. He decided he was going to do this with red zombie flesh. He wanted it done immediately so he did it himself and... Watcher Constantine became a blood lich. Instead of hating Vincent for poisoning him Constantine thanked Vincent for making him superior and opening up to Rahbarl, the archdemon beneath the city. Constantine then went on to further the riot that had been going on by murdering his way through the city, infecting people at a high rate. It took Joel with the Sword of Uriel to stop Constantine. I had a completely different idea in mind but, when Vincent's player handed me this low hanging branch, how could I not grab?

A Well Fleshed Out Setting Makes All the Difference. This doesn't really mean if you know the grand history of the setting, although that might help. The following things seem to be the most important, going by Hell on Wheels: what's happened in the last five years, the sensate aspects of your immediate setting, and what the common class looks like. Because, if you have all three of those things down, you know what everyone around you has experienced recently, how it's impacted their immediate surroundings, and what they think about it. That alone will make the place feel real.

Yeah, I'm terrible at this aspect. More on that as I develop it more.

Most of being a GM seems to involve sitting back, taking what your players want, combining it with what you want, and allowing the dice to make it unpredictable. I definitely recommend gathering as much of your stuff from your players as possible and only adding things when you need to get stuff moving. Players provide really good raw material, it's up to you to kick them in the balls and make them choose a direction. You don't choose what they do for them, you just give them a good enough sting in the rear to make them jump. But the better you conserve, the more patient (but not sluggish!) you are, and the better you flesh out the immediate setting the easier it'll get for players to make a decision.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Modern Spidey is... What?

The first time I saw the red and blue costume I was hooked. The wall crawling, the jumping, the swinging on webs high above the city streets... t'was amazing to even think about for my four year old self. As I grew older I found that the character I'd attached to had a surprising amount of depth. Peter was someone who was committed to being a normal man and a hero. He didn't care about saving the world, the world seemed to be doing very fine on it's own. He just wanted to get a job, marry Gwen, and settle down, saving the people around him as he could. Peter Parker just wanted to live.

Well, then One More Day happened, and Marvel sold Spidey's soul to Joe Quesada. I stopped reading immediately. This was not Spider-Man. I'm sorry, but Spidey doesn't make deals with the Devil, particularly when most of the arc that Straczynski had been running about been about Spidey's questioning of the mystical! How's a guy who has issues with the concept of God going to make a deal with the Devil? Not that Quesada cared.

Yes, this is still a sore point for me, deal with it or stop reading. I really don't care.

Anyway, I refused to read after that until I heard about Slott's run from a friend of mine. I was told that the stories were really good and that I was missing out. This friend of mine has good taste, so I decided to give it a shot. And y'know what? They were really good stories. Peter was finding his feet as a scientist and hero and he was knocking it out of the park. No, it wasn't my Peter. Peter is married to Mary Jane in my 90's kid memory. But it was a good facsimile of Peter and that was good enough for the moment. Heck, my hopes were raised with "Renew Your Vows", where we see Peter and Mary Jane married again with a daughter, Annie May.

But now Slott has come out and said  that the new volume of Amazing Spider-Man will focus on Peter Parker as a billionaire gallavanting around the world with a Spider-Mobile.

No, I did not just make that up. Peter Parker, the guy who just wanted a normal life, all of a sudden a billionaire and globetrotter, with a friggin' Spider-Mobile??

I have never seen a more drastic mistake on what makes a character tick. Spider-Man, contrary to popular opinion, is not a coming of age tale. It's the story of a man who tries to be a hero for the people right around him. The early issues work because they reflect where Peter is at at the time: he's a lonely teenager who's way too friggin' smart for his own good and trying not to turn into the crazy villains that he keeps running into. He's meeting twisted funhouse mirrors of himself and learning how to be a better person from it. The reason why the marriage was done is because Peter, being the Everyman, is logically going to get married, since it's the most common thing we do. Marriage is the bedrock of humanity, and since Spidey is explicitly stated as the Everyman it makes sense for him to be married and evolve in that way. The villains naturally would need to change to suit and mirror Peter's struggle like they did at the beginning of his career, which would bring new variety and allow for the title to grow instead of stagnating like it has been.

But, instead, we're getting Spidey globe trotting as a billionaire with a Spider-Mobile. This is not right. This is not my Spider-Man. It hasn't been ever since One More Day and, no matter how hard I wished for Big Time Spidey to be the hero that I had missed, Slott doesn't seem to understand the character anymore than Marvel does.

So, what would my Spider-Man look like?

Well, Peter being married to MJ again would be a no-brainer and they'd have their child. Aunt May would be dead, and so would Harry. So, for starters, J.M. Matteis's beautiful work wouldn't have been undone. But it would be more than that. Peter's too good a guy to not try to take care of New York however he can. Being a schoolteacher made a lot of sense for a man who never wanted to look away from trouble ever again and it would begin Peter's transformation into his father figure, Uncle Ben. The left over villains from Spidey's earlier times would then begin to try to form families of their own. Vulture with his little Vulture-lings, Doc Ock trying to form a nation out of Manhattan that would worship him in the way he always wanted, Alyosha Kravinoff trying to figure out who his father was (by means of torturing those who knew him like Chameleon and Spider-Man), things like that. On the home front Peter would be trying to adjust to having a baby and all that requires: do they use formula? Cosleep? Does MJ want more help with the baby, which cuts into Peter's night-time patrols, thus raising the crime rate and triggering Peter's guilt complex? What about the days when MJ just wants a a day off and Peter's already so exhausted he can't give her one, or doesn't want to?

See how I, a blogger sitting up at 11:30 at night with a computer, came up with all that in a few seconds? I literally just rattled that off the top of my head. That's good character based drama right there, all within the Spidey mythos. It would be amazing to see. But instead we're getting a Spider-Mobile. It almost makes me wanna write the thing myself, just so everyone could see what I'm talking about. Spidey isn't about riches, fame, or glory. That's Iron Man's M.O. Instead, Spidey is about the little man doing the little things that mean the world to the people around him, who happens to have the ability to stop a rampaging Rhino and does so because none of the Avengers are around to do it. That's my hero. That's my Spidey.

A note to Dan Slott should he find this: I know what you'll tell me should you read this. You'll tell me to wait and read. Which I might do, depending on my budget. However, please don't miss my point: Spider-Man is about a normal dude who is a hero to those immediately around him. I know you reference as much as you can from the Lee/Ditko/Romita era as you can, but that part-the most important part!- seems to have been left out. It's what made Spider-Island so great: Peter impacted those around them and made them all heroes, right along with him.

It's another sleepless night guys! I lay next to my lovely wife and son, listening to them breathe, for about twenty minutes and realized that I had more to say about this subject. Well, more of an announcement to make.

I'm gonna start writing the Spider-Man I wanna see, right here on this blog. Here's the skinny on that.

  1. That it'll be any good. Don't get me wrong, I'll try my darndest, but I'm not Matteis, Slott, or Lee. Not by a long shot. 
  2. That it'll last forever. It most probably won't, cause at some point I'll have said whatever I wanted to say about Peter Parker and then I'll be done. It'll be one more project talked about on this blog.
  3. It will start shortly before Mary-Jane gives birth to her and Peter's kid. Aunt May is dead. So is Norman and Harry Osborn. So is the Jackal. Ben Reilly is around, only recently having returned from his wanderings. No sign of Kaine, although I can't guarantee that'll be a permanent thing or that he'll be like what we're used to in the comics. Doc Ock is still alive and has no idea Peter is Spider-Man. 
  4. Dead is friggin' dead. 
  5. While I may borrow some elements from modern comics I will change anything about character's backstories that I so wish. I will not be sticking with preconceived notions of the characters, not by any means. So just cause it's been done in the comics does not make it canon for this little fanfic.
I have no idea how long each individual chapter will be, but you will hopefully get a chapter once a month. Chapters will be divvied up into books, which will last one year at a time. So, starting in October or November, you'll see the first chapter for my take on Spider-Man. What'll this new part of the blog be called?

The Amazing Spider-Family, of course! Stay tuned sometime in October!

Friday, September 18, 2015

13th Age Paladin

13th Age is an amazing game. Combining bits of indie story-telling with kick-ass action from the other d20 games 13th Age is easily the best of the modern d20 games (in this humble blogger's opinion). Each of the classes to fit around a different theme. They fit together pretty well...except that blood paladin. What is with d20 game and their inability to get how a paladin operates?

Out of all the d20 games I've played I've felt that 4th got the paladin the best, warts and all. The paladin in 4th edition was the rockstar of the figher classes, taking on crowds and laughing with impunity as the hordes crashed against him like waves against a rock. Sometimes I'd leave my DM speechless with how much damage I'd soaked up for the rest of the party. I would usually take double my full HP a battle and would not need to heal afterwards! Things like a critical hit would make me wince, sure, but it was only a flesh wound and my paladin could (and did) walk it off. Not that the paladin didn't have any weaknesses. A radiant-resistant enemy could laugh off my mark and my paladins went through healing surges (the recovery method in 4th) like a Russian did with vodka. The adventuring day would end because my paladin had run out of surges and could no longer block for anyone, nevermind protect himself in the midst of battle. Paladins also require a very competent healer to back them up as they play front man because, unlike the other defenders, paladins would pick fights with whole swarms of bad guys and needed the group to make sure he wouldn't fall flat on his face. It took a lot of trust to play a paladin, because if your teammates didn't back you up you were dead very quickly. Fortunately that was never a problem, as the other players were relieved to not need to spend more than two healing surges after each battle.

I don't get that feel in 13th Age. I just run in and smite things. The impression I've gotten from the online 13th Age community is that they're just as unimpressed as I am. So I decided to hack it. After talking with Andy and having some frank discussions about the state  of the Negative Zone this is what was cooked up. The following is a class feature:

Divine Challenge: Whenever you engage or are engaged by an opponent you gain temporary hit points equal to your Charisma modifier plus your level. Apply the double and triple rules for the Charisma modifier as normal. Temp hp gained this way stacks with itself. This caps at half your HP.

In addition, Smite has been renamed to Channel Divinity. You can either gain the bonus to damage as stated in the class feature or your can use it to burn a recovery. The feats that increase damage also increase healing by the same amount.

The class feature was designed with a meta in mind. Paladin players will be looking at this class feature and thinking "MOOKS!". Good. The intent is for paladins to throw themselves into battle against their enemies, shrugging off damage and tying up their foes while healing off wounds that should kill them and killing them as fast as possible.

Obviously, this is not playtested. I haven't gotten the math crimped down, nor do I know for sure how this will affect paladin play. If anyone reading this blog does try it out on their paladin please let me know, because it might be a while before I get around to testing it!

Remember, if you ain't charging into battle with the brazen faith that your god will protect you you ain't a paladin.